Fredericton Nature Club /
Club de la nature de Fredericton

Meetings are held at the Stepping Stone Centre (15 Saunders St.) in Fredericton
at 7:00pm on the 1st Thursday of the month from October to April.
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Rough-legged Hawks at Jemseg, November 24, 2007
(8 am - 12 pm; overcast, snow flurries then clearing sky; -10şC but a cold wind)

Our November club outing hoped for sightings of this Arctic raptor that winters in the Maugerville-Jemseg area, and so, led by Don Gibson, 13 members of the FNC bundled up for the Arctic-like weather and headed off at 8 am.   Don has been recording the species and location of raptors in the area from McGowan’s Corner to Lower Jemseg for many years.   Hopes were high because several ‘Rough-legs’ had been recently sighted, we had Don, and birders who need to put on long-johns in November aren’t likely to quit without compensation.   We saw numerous Common Goldeneye on the Saint John River as our convoy of 5 cars snaked along the old-Trans Canada Highway, a trip now much safer for birders who slam on the brakes for every shadow flying overhead.

Although the objective was Rough-legs, we scanned every dark shape among the branches and quickly found two adult Bald Eagles, sitting a metre apart, perched in the maples beside the River.   Two Red-tailed Hawks were found along the hydroline a short distance later, one of which free-falled from 50m in the sky down to the other hawk perched in a tree.   As they flew off, a Northern Harrier and Raven popped up and, for a few seconds, large birds were going in every direction.   At McGowan’s Corner, 2 more Harriers flew low over the uncut fields and a flock of Common Redpolls moved past.   The next raptor was another Redtailed, hidden enough behind a trunk to raise hopes for a Rough- legged.   Finally, a kilometer downroad, Don spotted a dark raptor, high up in the leafless tree.   A dark-phase, almost solid black, Rough-legged Hawk.   Those in the first few cars had a good look but those pulling-up had to settle for watching it flying away and scoping it in the distance.   It had landed near the Great Blue Heron heronry near the Oromocto Bridge.   Dark- phase Rough-legs are much less frequent than the light-phase ones and if we only had 1 Rough-leg for the day, this one could suffice.

Then, by fortune, we had a fantastic view of a light-phase soaring low overhead; the sighting of both phases back-to-back allowed a great comparison.   The long-johns were paying off.   The convoy carried on to Lower Jemseg where a few more Red-tails and Rough-legs were spotted.   A quick visit to Andrew McGinnis’ feeder showed a White-breasted Nuthatch and Goldfinches Don then wondered if the group was warm enough to try for a Tufted Titmouse across the river in Gagetown, and of course, off we went.   Gagetown has a number of feeders in close proximity and we were treated to a group of 10 Evening Grosbeaks, a Cardinal, Blue Jays, a Hairy Woodpecker, and numerous Black-capped Chickadees and Northern Juncos.   We looked for the titmouse for a half-hour, without luck, and were heading back to the cars when flying across the field and straight towards us, came the titmouse.   The entire group had good, long looks as the titmouse perched in the open, oblivious to the birdwatchers who started the day searching for hawks typical of the Arctic, and finishing with a bird from the south!

    Graham Forbes